MOUNT DESERT —For many area art lovers, the MDI Open at Sam Shaw’s gallery in Northeast Harbor is a favorite show. Perhaps it’s the variety – amateur artists such as Pat Pugh exhibiting a work for the first time and seasoned professional artists such as Judy Taylor showing some new work or an old favorite. There’s every stage of artistry in between, all sharing wall and floor space in Shaw’s opulent setting, surrounded by cascades of gold, silver and glittering gemstones.
What’s not to love?
Then again, perhaps it’s simply the opening reception, which was held again, per tradition, the last Thursday in May. It is both a great chance to catch up with friends after a long winter and the harbinger of an exciting summer season.
It’s wonderful to encounter painters whose confidence as artists has improved over the years to the extent that one recognizes not only their faces in the crowd but their art. Take Bob Jay for instance, whose meditative landscapes are a peaceful retreat in every show in which they appear. Then there are the ladies who watercolor, Maggie Johnson, Marion Smith, Ellen Kappes, whose light touches bring personal perspectives to familiar island scenes.
Seeing an Ivan Rasmussen watercolor, such as his “Emery Path,” is like running into an old friend on just such a trail. Art Paine’s sailing scene invites you to paradise.
It is just as fun to see accomplished but unfamiliar works in this genre. Vittoria McIlhenny manages to create a perfect little winter landscape with just a few lively brushstrokes, as does Connie Wagner for a delicate stand of birches.
Both the name and the genre are new in Lynda Millar’s “Hamilton Pond,” a charming skating scene in three dimensions made with layers of meticulously cut paper.
And mixed media doesn’t begin to describe the genre of my cousin Nan Ulett’s “Fishosaurus,” a Jurassic-looking creature made from patinaed copper and palm fronds.
Ditto Kathie Pratt’s sculpture of a woman made from objects found on the beach and woodsy walks. J. Aaron Mitchell combines pen and ink, oil, spray paint and glass in his lively, well-drawn and composed nude and face studies, which he has mysteriously titled “Wet Clothes and Dry Martinis.” Is he having a laugh?
Every year, it’s fun to see what Sydney Roberts has come up with, and her deconstructed, exploded iPhone this year is a case in point.
Leanne Nickon is a master of many genres, but relief printing might just be the best fit. Her plump kingfisher perched on a post is not only a likeness that ornithologist Roger Tory Peterson would approve, it also has attitude.
Judith Blank’s richly dyed woven wall hanging looks like it belongs right where they hung it, next to a Buddha. Susan Boyer takes fabric art to whole new place with her exquisite “Driftwood,” which combines quilting, embroidery, a keen imagination and nuanced sense of color.
Another old friend on these walls is Marc Fink’s encaustic “Tide Pool,” which is so convincing it seems as if you might see a tiny crab scuttling in its dark depths. A welcome newcomer is France Hilbert, whose large oil “Still and Yet” perfectly captures a golden afternoon glow in autumn on Long Pond without getting too fussy about it all.
Beth Lambert gives new life to dying lilies, and Liz Cutler a joyful perspective on a junk-strewn backyard, in their oil paintings. Chris Gray’s whiskey glass view of a pub is so evocative it almost smells like stale beer. And finally, Sam Shaw’s dancing nudes have all the joie de vivre of a Matisse with an edge that’s completely his own.
All this and so much more add up to an enormously fun show – and then there are all those luscious jewels. The show is up for only two weeks, so plan a trip to Shaw Jewelry on Main Street Northeast Harbor before it is too late.